Saturday, 27 December 2014

Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

American college students doing drugs, studying Greek and committing murder.  Donna Tartt lures us into a world where the normal limits of college life disappear and something closer to supernatural anarchy takes over.  There are half-revealed scenes of ritual horror, betrayals of trust, free love for some, tantalising frustrations for others. 

The narrator, Richard Pappin, endures the agony and the ecstasy of becoming a member of an elite Greek class at Hampden College, Vermont, led by Julian Morrow, a brilliant and enigmatic professor, who remains mostly in the shadows and, despite his almost incestuous attachment to his exceptionally gifted students, is only partially aware of their extra curricular obsessions.

Richard is granted entry to this elite group and begins to find out how Bunny, Francis, Henry, Camilla and Charles tick, although there is always the notion that secrets are being withheld from him.  We, too feel that we are honorary members of the group, only permitted to look through the blinds, as it were.  The result of such a fragmented view is that, in addition to constantly having to second guess what will happen (which we expect to do in any good mystery), we find ourselves fretting, worrying what these dysfunctional characters will do next to sink themselves more deeply in the mire. At times, it is almost like reading something by Enid Blyton.  'The Secret Seven', grown up and with pathological tendencies.  Friendship has never been quite so stressful, or downright dangerous.

I did enjoy this book immensely, but there was something so destructive woven into the fabric of the writing, that when I got to the final page and saw the full-page photograph of the author, I actually shuddered.  Here was Henry, just as I had imagined him, but in female form. 

Highly recommended for readers who enjoy a seriously disturbing murder mystery with more than a pinch of pure madness.

Monday, 22 December 2014

~~~~~~~~ My Christmas Present to You ~~~~~~~~

Free download from 22nd - 27th December

Happy Christmas to all my blog visitors! I hope you enjoy my most recent short story with a glass of something fragrant and a Jamie Oliver mince pie...

Inspector Hanson and his team are perplexed by the work of a serial killer, in and around the town of Halfton.  The bizarre murders seem to be unconnected, with no obvious motive.  Eventually, though, the trail becomes warmer and Inspector Hanson has a hunch...

Thursday, 18 December 2014

My French Life

August 2008

When we moved to France it was done on a whim.  I think it was probably my idea.  

My husband Al’s parents had bought a mobile ‘ome on the south west coast near Ronce les Bains and we’d already been out there for a two week holiday.  The lure of a new adventure beckoned. “Let’s move to France,” I said on Saturday afternoon after a mind-numbing trip to Tesco’s in the drizzle. 

“Okay,” said Al.  You find out everything we have to do, put the house on the market and I’ll see if I can work from home.   Well, that’s the twist I put on his rather more detailed response.

A year later, having given up trying to sell the house, and after I’d checked all the things he’d asked me to check and filled in reams of largely unnecessary forms, and after his company had agreed to his working remotely, we packed a trailer, squeezed into our Rover with our two enormous sons, and set off.

Our friends came to see us off - very sad.

The A14 had never seemed so exciting.

Ten hours later, we rolled up at the gite in the dark, apprehensive and very tired.  I’d booked everything through the Internet. We'd chosen our accommodation in a village called le Gua, after sifting through hundreds of places in department 17, and viewing them on Google Earth to detect potentially poisonous emissions from factory chimneys or noise pollution from encroaching motorways laden with juggernauts.  Ha!

Let the mayhem begin!

We got out of the car and were assaulted by a German Shepherd and two bouncing Jack Russells, much to the delight of our children.


We’d dissected emails and analysed phone calls for clues as to whether our new landlords would be monsters, but nothing could have prepared us for Jim and Monique, who were the perfect hosts from day one.  We were lucky.  They were accommodating and fun.  Bright and breezy.  

Life at the gite was cramped, but there was open countryside beyond Jim's fields.  And there were horses, donkeys, dogs, cats…you get the picture...  Pulses slowed.  We breathed in the clean air and accompanied Jim and his dogs on long walks, gathering mushrooms, walnuts, figs, living off the land.  

Al got the Internet sorted out (eventually) and stuck a desk in the corner of our bedroom.  Hey presto! He was a teleworker.  Paid in sterling, with an exchange rate of one euro fifty to the pound, we were comfortably off. 

Our two boys, then 8 and 11 went off to French school with the little French they’d picked up in England and on the Internet during the summer.  They coped brilliantly, despite Harry being put into the wrong classes at first and Alfie having a teacher who believed in teaching by decibel. 

I didn’t have a job and was charged with finding a house to buy.  What fun!  I got lots of brochures and started circling ads.

Three months went by and Christmas came.  We shared it with Jim, Monique and Paulette, a formidable local woman in her seventies who had only recently given up cycling 28 kilometres to see her relatives on the Ile d’Oleron.  She arrived, dismounted in mid sentence and didn’t really let up much.  She cornered my husband, hemming him in between the wall and an enormous rubber plant, telling him that she wanted to tour Europe on the back of his motorbike.  I could see that he was tempted.  At lunch, Paulette said the turkey was dry and tough, but as she'd forgotten to put her teeth in, no one was particularly surprised.

Christmas in Charente Maritime, sitting on the terrace for coffee in the warm sunshine while my boys petted the various dogs, cats, rabbits, donkeys and horses, it was easy to think that we’d done the right thing.

Harry's first riding experience.

Happy Days  

(To be continued…)

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Review: 'A Thousand Splendid Suns'

Khaled Hosseini  (‘The Kite Runner’) is a best-selling Afghan-American author.

They say that you should write about what you know.

Khaled Hosseini certainly has me believing in a world that is both horrifying and exquisite.  There is human suffering on an unimaginable scale, tempered by compassion, and friendships forged in the most hostile environments.  Characters are beautifully drawn, so that we walk in their footsteps, travelling with them along paths that offer hope in the midst of war and oppression.  Mariam and Laila, women of their time, are skilfully brought together, their sufferings shared and made tolerable by a mutual empathy that allows these women to bear with integrity and stoicism the lives they have had no part in choosing. 

We learn about an Afghanistan wracked with brutal traditions, aggressive regimes and a divided people, not through dry documentary, but via the experiences of the characters we have come to care deeply about.  We are shown the vastness of the land, its ancient monuments and close communities, its mountains and deserts.  Khaled Hosseini is a true master of the written word and, as we find out in the author’s final notes at the end of the book, a man of principle, who takes an active interest in the future of his country.

Highly recommended.  

Click here to view Bev Spicer's books (UK)

Click here to view Bev Spicer's books (US)

Friday, 12 December 2014

Alex Crane - an unusual heroine.

This book was a labour of love.  It got into my consciousness and wouldn't get out.  Started in 2011, it's my second book, and the one that has been redrafted the most.  I hope this means it has evolved into the best book it can be, although I can't promise that I won't tamper with it in the months and years to come.

This latest draft has received some judicious and professionally advised editing - I've made some fairly ruthless cuts in the first four chapters in an effort to pick up the pace whilst still building intrigue through my main character.  She is a complicated woman with an uncompromising attitude to most things.  As one reviewer commented:  "The protagonist in this novel must surely be a contender for one of the most selfish, self-centred and egotistical characters of twenty first century fiction so far."  She went on to describe how, nevertheless, she found Alex a totally absorbing character, and explained why she had given 'My Grandfather's Eyes' five stars!  A great thrill for an author who has taken a huge risk in creating such a controversial heroine.    

I can only assume from this and other positive reviews that there are many readers who enjoy exploring a mind that is fed by rancour and doubt as well as by love and certitude. Alex is not all bad. She is a passionate human being. But her views and her actions are often shockingly candid. 

I hope to make a paperback version available shortly before Christmas.

In the meantime:

Friday, 5 December 2014

A Spy in the House of Love

Anais Nin

I read this when I was young enough to believe that I could, if I wished, ‘be’ Sabina.  I had already devoured most of D H Lawrence’s novels and been impressed, as only a pretentious undergraduate can be, with this (or any) kind of angst-ridden literature, so I was ready for more and was inclined to believe that Anais Nin would go deeper in, as it were, and stay there for longer.

A third of a century later, I downloaded the English version to my kindle and plunged in once again.  What I found was a predictable minefield of emotion, a philosophy that had more twists and turns than an anaconda and, in between, passages that struck home with one or several blinding truths that went off like fireworks in my brain.  More!  I wanted more.  It was like sifting through sand to find diamonds, laborious but ultimately worth the effort. 

Nin is a master at proving the point that, as The Verve later put it, rather more succinctly, in Bittersweet Symphony: (we are) ‘a million different people from one day to the next…’  Sabina wrangles with her multiple personalities and endeavours to satisfy each one, all the time searching for the elusive real ‘Sabina’.

I will undoubtedly return to this book, but I will try it in French next time. The English version was chosen for its lower price tag (shameful) and in the vain hope that it might be easier to read (genetic flaw).  I have to say that it is not a bad effort, (I believe that Nin was criticised greatly for her English*) but there is an unavoidable awkwardness that jars the flow and this book needs, above all, to flow.  There were too many ‘annihilations’ ‘dispersions’ ‘fragments’ and every part of speech involving the base form ‘bleak’ (this last one must have been when even the author had had enough of Sabina’s inner turmoil and her long-way-round trip to find herself).

A richer, more natural lexical field would at least have avoided choices that are almost but not quite apt, not to mention the tedious repetition of standby, last resort words as mentioned above.  ‘Lostness’ was probably the last straw for me.

However, until I get to grips with the French edition once more, which may read better, I feel a bit of a fraud.  Even in English, the book is definitely well worth reading.

* I believe that Nin wrote in both English and French and that her books are not translations.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Thursday, 27 November 2014

My French Life - un Jeu de Foot

 Guardian extraordinaire!

     Football is rife in France.  Every village, no matter how petit, has a pitch equipped with floodlights and somewhere to buy a (very drinkable) coffee (bring your own milk) or a beer. 
I have two sons who live for the beautiful game and need to train twice a week, come rain or shine.  Corme Royal has two pitches.  Impressive.  But there are not enough players in most age categories to form a local team.  This means (you guessed it!) joining another club in a neighbouring village.
     Last weekend (no rain - many thanks to the Management), my eldest played against Marennes. 

     The players jog onto the pitch in formation, lining up then passing along to shake hands.  The referee has sorted out a startling selection of gear, this time in an ecstasy of red, turquoise and baby blue.  The players take their positions.  The goalkeepers raise a hand.  The scene is set. The whistle blows.
     Dressed in layers, I shun the stands and observe the action from behind the barrier, joined by other hardcore football aficionados.  Today, there is a restaurateur, recently retired, a local Papi (grandfather), and his much younger wife out for an afternoon constitutional.  We converse, tentatively at first.
     Apparently, Federer (le Suisse) has just beaten their very own Gasquet in the final of the Davis Cup.  Now, here they were, in the company of an enemy supporter, with their team already losing 1:0 on its home ground.  Should I be afraid?  On the contrary, we are civilised, jovial, even philosophical.  I dare to cheer (je m’excuse!) when St. Georges scores against Marennes. 
     At half time, the Papi indicates the need for a roller.  Opinions vary.  We are joined by the linesman, who senses the chance to air his views and assures us that the ground is too soft for such a delicate operation.  We study the peaks and troughs, lost in a dream of perfect pitches.  The rather handsome restaurateur mentions the unusually long grass for the time of year and we nod, admitting that a judicious trim might be in order, were it not for the need to convince the Mairie to perform an out of season duty.  We laugh.  Ah, la France!
     The whistle blows for the second half.  I have three Tic Tacs and there are four of us.  Ah, les Tic Tacs!  I shake one into each of their palms, insisting that they are welcome.  As I look up, my son (the goalkeeper) performs an elaborate step over and lets in a corner.  1:1.  I clap politely.
     "Allez les jaunes!"  I call from the sidelines.  
     Moments later, just as I have asked about the excessively noisy frogs and am listening to a minute description of one, we score from a free kick, just outside the penalty area, through a chink in the five-man wall.
     “Hooray!  Bien joué! Allez les jaunes!”
     “Allez les blues!” calls the handsome restaurateur, entering into the spirit, at last.
     “Allez les verts!” I reply, going for ‘all inclusive’ with a glint in my eye.
     We move to a new level of understanding.

     2:1 and all is well.  But only for the next fifteen minutes.  After an untidy scuffle in front of the goal, the ball slips in and once more there’s all to play for.  
     My companions are discreet.
     “C’est un bon match – pas de bagarres (no fighting)”,  says the Papi’s wife.  Her hair is fabulous, in a ‘Back to the Future’, kind of way.
     I smile in agreement.
     I grumble internally.  Our team needs a win.  If we descend any lower, my son tells me, it will be difficult to find officials willing to referee or run the lines.  The game will become a brawl.
     We watch intently as the time ticks away.  The referee gives out free kicks at an exponential rate.  There is increasingly colourful language, including a phrase which I’d taken to be a figment of my old French teacher’s imagination:
     “Ta mère aux shorts!” shouts one of the opposition. 
     The Papi chuckles. 
     I consider the implications of such an overtly sexist remark (at the same time, I like to think I still look good in shorts…).

     Then, from the centre line, our most corpulent player – a beer-bellied thirty-five-year-old (my son is 17 yet plays for the seniors) steals the ball and advances in the style of Ronaldo, dancing, dodging, ignoring the coach, who is screaming, “Lâches!  Lâches! Donnes! Donnes!” (release/pass the ball!). 
     For God’s sake, I think, what a terrible show-off.  But he beats one defender, then another.  Do we dare to dream?  The coach murmurs, “Putain…”   One more defender is outclassed and the goalkeeper adopts the stance of a protective kangaroo (technical name: shot-stopper).  Our quick-stepping hero pauses and directs the ball  into the back of the net with a nonchalance that brings the crowd dangerously close to a communal cardiac arrest.  I clutch my phone as I regard our linesman turn purple, and try to remember the number for Samu:  is it 15, 16 or 17?
     The cheering dies down and the last five minutes seem like a lifetime.  The opposition does score, but the goal is given off-side.  I suppress a churlish whoop.  The final whistle blows and I relax.
     I shake the hands of my tolerant new friends and wait for my son, who will give me  a blow-by-blow account of the match on the way home.  He is jubilant, yet, as always, critical of his mistakes.
     I pull out a magic ham baguette and he grins. 
     "Thanks, Mum.  You're the best!"

Happy Days!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Goodreads giveaway

Goodreads Book Giveaway

bunny on a bike by Bev Spicer

bunny on a bike

by Bev Spicer

Giveaway ends December 01, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

So much better unplugged!

This is one for the headset.

Hits me right in the nucleus.

Alice in Chains - Down in a Hole

Layne Staley (the one with the voice)
1967 - 2002

Occasionally there's a song that is so haunting that even the first time you hear it you get that feeling.  The one that reminds you that your skin is an organ and that each individual hair on your body is a sensor.  'Down in a Hole'  is charged with an almost unbearable dose of emotion.  It's dark.  But it's exquisitely beautiful, too. Love it. 

Monday, 3 November 2014

Short Stories

I recently published two of my short stories Strings  and Peaches in the Attic.  I was pleased that so many people chose to download them. 

A short story is not everyone's idea of fun. 

But good short stories can be intense, mesmerising.  They can take over a coffee break, or make us sit too long in the sun.  Every word fits nicely into our sudden distraction from routine. Every sentence leads somewhere, connecting us in someway with the plot, the characters, the place.

A  favourite of mine was and is 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge'.  Not a particularly catchy title, I'll admit.  But the author, Ambrose Bierce, had me with the first few sentences:

A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man's hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head and the slack fell to the level of his knees.

What follows is as irresistible as the swift water below and the slack rope hanging to his knees. I won't spoil it for you.  If it grabs you, download it and read it.  You won't be disappointed.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge - Amazon link 

Another great read is 'Through the Tunnel' by Doris Lessing.  A bit more intrigue in the title, this time. The story is a call to our childhood selves.  To those moments we endured with shame or pride as we battled through difficult situations which must be won at all costs.

Going to the shore on the first morning of the vacation, the young English boy stopped at a turning of the path and looked down at a wild and rocky bay, and then over to the crowded beach he knew so well from other years.  

A choice is to be made, in a foreign place.  A challenge to be faced. The writing is superb. Being in the water has never felt so terrifying.

Through the Tunnel - Amazon link 

I've read hundreds of short stories, but these two were the first to come to mind.  They both deal with extreme situations.  They both build to a fabulous climax.  They both satisfy.

A short story is not everyone's idea of fun.  But ideas change, and fun comes in many forms. 

Happy reading.

Friday, 24 October 2014

My interview with Hajira Amla of Seychelles News Agency

 Bev Spicer, author of Stranded in the Seychelles

Can you start off by explaining a bit about the Bev and Carol series in general and why you decided to write them?

Like most things in my life, Bev and Carol were sort of accidental.  I was talking to a friend who also writes, and when she found out I had worked at a London Playboy casino as a croupier in the early 80s, she said I would be mad not to write about it. People would be interested to know what it was really like dealing blackjack in the not so glamorous world of Playboy. That was the beginning of Bev and Carol, two friends with larger than life personalities and not a great deal of common sense.  So, Bunny on a Bike (Playboy croupiers in 8os London) was the first humorous memoir I wrote, but the second in the series.  Confused?  All will become clear... 

Are there any more Bev and Carol adventures in the pipeline since they were last seen jetting off towards Bangkok?

Aha! Well, there are three so far: One Summer in France (two girls in a tent)Book one, Bunny on a Bike (mentioned above) Book two and Stranded in the Seychelles (teachers in paradise)Book three.  I’m very, very tempted to go off piste with Bev and Carol next time.  Perhaps a hilarious sci fi adventure: Black Holes and Poptarts for example.  If you remember the 70s and 80s, Poptarts were a kind of mass produced flat cake with synthetic jam in the middle.  These delicacies were responsible for many a toaster fire as young people everywhere fed their addiction for sugar and animal fat.  Yummy. They do feature in the Bev and Carol books.  Perhaps Seychelles was lucky enough to escape them?

Stranded in Seychelles is a very tongue-in-cheek look at the islands back in the late 1980s - what would you want Seychellois readers to know before they pick up the book? 

Glad you asked this one!  Stranded in the Seychelles, like all the books in the Bev and Carol series, is meant to be entertaining but also interesting.  Hopefully, readers will see that the laugh is generally on one or other of the protagonists rather than at the expense of other characters who appear in the books.  The portrayal of Seychelles is from the point of view of two young women who are exploring a new and exciting culture where, for the first time in their lives, they are exposed to a society which is evolving at a fantastic rate.  There are aspects of Seychellois life that Bev and Carol find charming, laudable, refreshing and, at the same time, they come across social practices that test their moral and political yardsticks, sometimes leaving them baffled or overwhelmed.  During their time on the islands, Bev and Carol are delighted, challenged and terrified in turn.  Above all, I hope that the deep affection and pride I felt for Seychelles and its people will come through loud and clear.

What kind of person was Bev Spicer in those days?

Incorrigible, unstoppable, dozy, blonde, less wrinkly, and on the lookout for adventure.  I remember never wanting to settle in one place for too long because I might miss something.  The world seemed like a huge treasure chest and I wanted to dive in and pull out as much sparkle as I could.  I suppose I was lucky to have received a free university education, trained to be a teacher and to have had a father who only wanted me to follow my heart and be happy.  And so, in those days, I was a traveller, first and foremost.  I’ve lived in a lot of different countries and feel privileged to have encountered so much that is new to me.  Wherever I have been, I’ve always found amazing people.  People who smile no matter what life throws at them.  I had very little in terms of possessions in those days.  I felt free and unafraid of the future.

Have you been back to the Seychelles since your departure from the NYS? If so, what can you say about how the islands and the people have changed since then?

No, I’ve never thought about returning. Do you know how rich you have to be to holiday in the Seychelles?
I’m so pleased to have found your site, though.  Now I can keep up with what’s happening at the click of a button.  Amazing!

You say that the book is partly fictional and partly a true account of your experiences in Seychelles - how much/what parts of the book has been embellished with fiction and why?

Now this is a very leading question!  I would say that practically all of the events are based on my own experiences, with the occasional exaggeration for dramatic effect.  Fiction comes into play with the characters, who have been made as unrecognisable as possible from the real people I met.  ‘Carol’ is an entirely fictional character in all of the books.  The person who accompanied me to France, London and Seychelles, was nothing like Carol.  What is absolutely real, and what I have endeavoured to convey is the profound and treasured friendship that comes from knowing someone well and enjoying their company in a way that is effortless and genuine.  I sometimes think that Bev and Carol are probably more like two sides of my own rather strange personality.   

Are you still close to Carol (is that her real name)? How did she react when you told her you wanted to write this series?

I am in touch with my friend, yes.  Her name, as you’ve probably guessed, is not Carol.  How does she feel about the books?  I think she is quite impressed, and very happy for me.

Is the book only available on Amazon or do you have print versions available as well? 

All three memoirs are available on Amazon as kindle versions or in paperback.
Are you self-published?

Yes.  I like being self-published.  I have total control over content, cover, pricing and publication dates. 

 When was Stranded in Seychelles released?

The kindle version was released on February 27th 2014.  The paperback version on October 17th 2014.

How has the book and the series in general done in sales and have you received any interest from publishers?

All my books are gradually reaching a wider audience, which is very exciting for me. I try to spread the word using social media, but I try not to overdo this.  Most readers who buy my books do so after reading reviews on Amazon or by recommendation from a friend.  Interviews like this one generally help too!  I am always thrilled when someone chooses to buy a copy of one of my books and I’m lucky enough to have received excellent reviews for all of them.

Publishers?  I’ve had a great deal of interest, but nothing concrete, as yet.  I’m quite happy being an independent author for the time being. 

How many other books have you written in total and what kind of genres do they cover?

Apart from my three humorous memoirs, I have three published novels and three published short stories, all kindle versions.  I’m aiming to get all my work into paperback by the end of the year.  Wish me luck! 

My Grandfather’s Eyes is a psychological drama featuring a strong female protagonist who some readers have described as evil.

A Good Day for Jumping is set on the island of Crete where I spent two years teaching, and is more of a character driven mystery involving a multilayered plot, a handsome libertine and a glamorous woman who has led a very unusual life.

The Undertaker’s Son is set in France, where I now live, and is rather more of a soap opera, with lots of local detail and a collection of rural and international characters.  There is romance, deceit, croissants, and a terrifying twist at the end.

I have also published three separate short stories: Angels is a metaphysical horror story, Strings is an apocalyptic sci fi and Peaches in the Attic is a rather disturbing tale about a grandmother and her granddaughter.

You now live in France with your husband and children - would you say your days of adventure, binge drinking and reckless abandon are over? 

I don’t binge drink any more, although I do have a glass of wine with dinner - this is unavoidable given where I live... and very enjoyable, too.  Would I give up adventure and reckless abandon?  I don’t know if I could ever do that!  

To go to Seychelles News Agency's online journal, click here: 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

My French Life - Eating out

We don't often go out for a big celebration in the evening, here in France.  Lunch menus are simple, far cheaper and just as delicious.  But it was a special occasion and we let out our impulsive selves for once.  My husband and I.  'Come to dinner!' we said to his mum and dad.  'Would you like to join us?' we asked our enormous teenage sons. 

The restaurant is local and is run by a fabulous couple.  One English, one French.  The food is well above the quality you would expect from a rural location such as ours.  Lucky us, I say.

I tip-toed downstairs in some ridiculous shoes and a rather clingy dress, the boys lumbered out of their bedroom paradises, unplugged momentarily from their alternative realities, and, keeping to their usual dress code of summer shorts and tee shirts, began grinning at the prospect of being fed.  The in-laws arrived in a burst of Heinz tomato soup, Cadbury's Dairy Milk and explosive joie de vivre.  My husband donned a jacket, shook his mane of very long, very messy hair, and looked his usual delicious self.  We were all set.

Our hostess was there to greet us, as were a handful of bright-faced locals and a small table of international friends, who were having a Sunday apero.  The atmosphere was immediately convivial.  Having kissed and caught up with a little news, we went through to the dining room and were seated, boy-girl-boy-girl. 

I was suddenly very hungry.  I think we all were. 

The menu was interesting, if a little scary.  We made our choices.  For the entrée I had bar mariné au citron vert avec condiment croquant et sorbet poivron rouge. (lime marinated bass with a red pepper sorbet, beautifully presented with crunchy vegetable garnish). I hated it - but it was my own fault for foolishly ordering raw fish, when I don't like raw fish. I blame this oversight on the fact that I am a Midlands girl with experimental tendencies.

Luckily, I was less adventurous with the main course: joue de boeuf braisé avec champignons des bois, carottes et moelle (braised beef cheeks with wild mushrooms, carrots and bone marrow).  Once I'd stopped thinking about the anatomy of a cow, pondering the idea of cheeks, and wondering whether I should be eating meat in the first place, I was more or less okay.  It was, after all, very tender and tasty. 

I had decided early on that dessert would be one step too far for the seams of my lycra dress to bear.  Needless to say, the stolen tasters I got from various disgruntled members of my party were the best part of the meal, for me.  My favourite: Chocolat 'guayaquil' parfumé à la citronnelle, avec marmelade de framboise (chocolat mousse flavoured with lemon, with a layer of raspberry jam).  Exquisite!

Of course, everyone else enjoyed the whole menu.  Why wouldn't they? They were obviously much less squeamish than I am and proper gourmets into the bargain. 

My education in the appreciation of the finer things in life is ongoing, although it has to be said that I have ruled out several delicacies so far, including oysters, snails (including snail jam) and all forms of black pudding, (having seen a documentary about how this is made, featuring a sturdy woman, a wooden spoon, a bowl containing blood and animal fat, and finally, a reporter who made a hilarious unscheduled dive for the door as the mixture thickened).

I have to say, also, that the urge to simplify, as I grow older, is sometimes extremely attractive. With this in mind, and turning my back on the notion of a calorie, tonight I'm cooking fish and chips with homemade curry sauce (à la Jamie Oliver/Comfort Food). Mushy peas, too.  Hands up who wants some!

Happy days.


Monday, 20 October 2014

Monday, 6 October 2014

Peaches in the Attic

My new short story is similar in genre to the wonderful Tales of Mystery and Imagination originally broadcast  between 1966 and 1970 by the BBC.  I used to watch them with my grandfather.  My grandmother had gone to The Dogs with my mother... 

My grandfather and I were free spirits and generally immune to rules about anything to do with bedtimes or suitable television viewing.  I remember dastardly plots, secret rooms, ice-cold characters.  Horror and the supernatural on a Saturday night, with the fire lit and the horse brasses glinting.  I was all of a wriggle, eyes wide and ready to be amazed.

Although Peaches in the Attic is an adult piece, it is approved by my teenage nieces, who rate it as 'excellently evil'.

Bon appetit!


My new story, Strings, is pure science fiction.  At least I hope it is!  Apocalyptic, in a horribly playful sort of way...

Amazon UK
Amazon US

Angels is a metaphysical horror story about a mother's revenge for her daughter's untimely death.  It has received very positive reviews from Amazon customers.


Monday, 29 September 2014

Radar Love

University, 1977 - 1980.  What did I listen to?   

Promotional(?) pic of Golden Earring

Radar Love, by Golden Earring was one of my favourites.  Edgy, sexy, lots of tight trousers and long hair (and that was just me).  Yummy.  But did you know they were Dutch? And have you ever listened to their 1969 smash hit 'dong-dong-diki-digi-dong'?  No?  Well!  Get ready.  Go!

Golden Earring before Radar Love

Now, just in case, like me, you prefer Radar Love, here it is:

Radar Love (with psychedelic special effects)

When I hear this one I think of beer, boys drinking beer, spilled beer, beer bottles... you guessed it - the Students' Union bar.  There it was.  The already out-of-date jukebox with its eclectic selection of music that could brand a person with just one slip of the finger.  Rock chick and cider drinker, blond hair and size 11 jeans (yes, there were in-between sizes in those days), I wouldn't be seen dead listening to David Soul or The Jackson 5.  Oh, no!  I was so cool I almost melted.  (My words, not anyone else's.) 

These days, having donned my sports bra and trainers, I start up a selection of music on my mp3 player that I use for jogging round the garden (every other day - I'm not a fanatic).  Radar Love is for when I've survived the first ten minutes and want to up the ante and do a few random moves to startle my husband (he's usually up to his eyes in JAVA or C++ and not expecting my graceful form to hove into view).  Then I go on to something like Madonna (I favour the William Orbit productions), The Black-eyed Peas (I Gotta Feeling), or Frankie Goes to Hollywood (Relax - of course).  But I digress.

Just in case you were wondering whether Frans Krassenburg's hands are still 'wet on the wheel', I looked  up what claims to be a recent picture for you: 

 I think that's Frans on the left.

And if that's not enough, you can find a complete history of this most wonderful of bands here:

Golden Earring for people much more interested than I am...

I had fun.  Hope you did, too.

Until the next time...

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Novels by B. A. Spicer

I have written a number of novels, all of which are character-driven and involve intricate plots that will keep you guessing.  I believe that the writing itself should be a major part of a book's appeal.

My latest release is Locked Away.  A quick, tense read.

Ellie wakes to find herself in darkness, lying on bare earth with her mouth taped and her hands tied. After the panic subsides, she endeavours to learn as much as she can about her elusive captor, in a bid to outwit him.

But this is no ordinary abduction and it requires the services of no ordinary detective. 

Cue DCI Alice Candy – she has a reputation for getting her man. Her methods might be unorthodox, her rumoured extrasensory perception might be scoffed at, but with DS Will Brady at her side, there is no better chance for the young woman who is locked away. 

This is the first book in the DCI Alice Candy series.  The second will be available early in 2018.

My Grandfather's Eyes is my first published novel, although it was not the first I wrote.
I tend to enjoy creating flawed characters, and Alex is probably one of my most complex.  There isn't much to like about her, it's true, but she does have some serious issues to deal with.  Her single-minded approach to investigating the past so that she can move on with her life often has shocking consequences.  What has she done and what will she do next?  These are the questions that drive the story forward.
You can download a free sample of My Grandfather's Eyes to find out whether Alex is the type of character you might enjoy.  Just click on the link below:

A Good Day for Jumping follows the lives of Stephen Firth, a handsome, rich, promiscuous young man and Joyce Shackleton, a deeply surprising middle-aged woman. (No, they are not going to have a torrid affair - sorry to disappoint!  Their stories are linked in a much more subtle and interesting way.)
Set in Greece, where I lived for two years, there is a many-layered plot involving characters whose worlds collide in the most disturbing ways.  
There are characters you can really care about and others you may despise.  The world is not full of perfect people, after all.
Follow the link below and look inside - you will find yourself in the small town of Rethymnon on the island of Crete, where Stephen Firth is considering his options.

A Life Lived Twice is quite different in format to my first two novels, with shorter chapters and rather more well-balanced characters, who lead normal lives and whose interactions do not always lead to disaster!  However, there are the usual scandals associated with a close-knit society and there is also Claude Cousteau (the undertaker's son) to add a touch of evil that will undermine the pleasant comings and goings in the small French village of St. Martin le Vieux, where our heroine, Martha Burton, has bought a traditional Charentaise house, and has attracted the attentions of her handsome neighbour.
Follow the link and download a free sample to find out how the idyll of everyday life in a French setting has no bearing on a man who has grown up in an altogether more disturbing environment.

What I Did Not Say is my most recent novel.  Jessica Morley is on her way to meet with a man she hasn't seen for fifteen years.  In her bag there is a package she must deliver.  As she travels south, she remembers Jack Banford, a boy who captured her imagination as a child and made her believe in a fure that could never happen.  Now it is time for her to set the record straight and finally pu the past behind her.  If you like a good courtroom drama, you'll love part two of this well-received story of love and cruelty in all its forms.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

My latest read: Crash by J G Ballard

J G certainly divides the camp with 'Crash'.  Released in 1973, the reviews were uncompromising: ‘Crash is, hands down, the most repulsive book I’ve yet to come across.’ New York Times, Sept. 1973 (the ambiguity of the phrasal verb is almost unbearable).  Martin Amis, Observer, July 1973 wrote: ‘Ballard has a brilliant reputation but this novel’s obsession with sado-masochism via deliberate car-crashing is repellent.’ 

Ballard himself says in his introduction: ‘...the ultimate role of Crash is cautionary, a warning against that brutal, erotic and overlit realm that beckons more and more persuasively to us from the margins of the technological landscapes.’  That got me.

I read on and discovered that Crash is undoubtedly explicitly pornographic, but there have been many novels that have crossed boundaries and appalled (or delighted) readers in the past.  Crash gets into a territory that is so new that I had to keep reading despite the natural revulsion I felt for some of the most deviant imagery I have ever experienced.  The intimate and devastating bringing together of automobile parts and human anatomy, where gauges and gear sticks leave scars that inspire the ‘nightmare angel of the expressways’, Dr. Robert Vaughan  to perform sex acts recreated from accidents he has witnessed had me squirming and yet...

...I went along with it, in some reassuring way, holding the hand of the narrator, who, although enjoying the kind of sexual freedoms that inhabit the most creative of imaginations, seemed at the same time, recognisably human - he cared about his wife, his friends, but, like me, was intrigued and wanted to know more about the decadent and highly charismatic Vaughn’s nightmare obsessions with the motor car and those injured or killed in crashes happening almost on a daily basis on the highway.

The thesis is extreme: that we are living on the edge of a cataclysmic event in which we will all be consumed.  Technology, and the dreams it ensnares us with, will destroy us.  In the process, it will continue to de-humanise us.

The impacts between metal, glass and upholstery and the human body seemed to blur the differences between what is animate and inanimate, but more than that, I felt that there was an element of sacrificial inevitability.  The many human fluids mentioned that appeared to decorate and mingle with the excretions of the motor car did not detract from this.

Crash caught me up and carried me into a startlingly new domain, which both horrified and fascinated me.  At no point did I doubt the wider aims of the author, who asserts that Crash ‘is an extreme metaphor for an extreme situation, a kit of desperate measures only for use in an extreme crisis.’  Elsewhere he states that Crash is a ‘psychopathic hymn which has a point.’

The descriptions are unswervingly detailed, the images deeply disturbing, the repetition of death and injury on the highways and flyovers relentless.  It’s worse than any bad dream you could imagine.

Am I glad I read it?  You bet.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Goodreads Book Giveaway

One Summer In France by Bev Spicer

One Summer In France

by Bev Spicer

Giveaway ends October 01, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win